MPAA ratings

Michael Vollmar-Grone (
Wed, 05 Aug 1998 13:25:07 -0400

I recently wrote a research paper on the Motion Picture Association of
America's Ratings System in regards to public libraries and intellectual
freedom. Here is a little of what I found.

Videos collections are well established in public libraries. The
University of Illinois Library Research Center (LRC) poll found that 87
percent of the respondents believe educational videos belong in
libraries (Estabrook & Horak, 1992). According to the State Library of
Ohio, 246 of the 250 Ohio public libraries own videos (State Library of
Ohio, 1996). Of the four that do not have collections, three circulate

Evelyn J. Nowak=92s Master=92s Research Project looked at several relevan=
issues (Nowak, 1993). Effects on selection and access are reported in
"A Case Study of Ohio Public Libraries that Require Parental Involvement
for Minors=92 Access to Videotape Collections 1993." As to purchasing
decisions, more than half, 56.6 percent, of Ohio Public Libraries
reported the MPAA ratings have an effect (Ohio Library Association,
1991). Nationally, more than 50 percent of public libraries also
reported some effect (Kreamer 1992). Despite the ALA guidelines for
access, 76.5 percent of Ohio=92s public libraries restrict the video
collection by age (Ohio Library Association 1991). Nationally, 60
percent do (Kreamer 1992).

The respected editor of School Library Journal, Lillian N. Gerhardt, did
not mince words when addressing the attempts to pass state laws giving
the MPAA ratings legal standing, quoting Claire Booth Luce "Censorship
should begin at home; but, unlike charity, it should end there"
(Gerhardt 1996). The editorial was prompted by attempts to pass
legislation that would give the power of law to the MPAA ratings,
forcing librarians into "library police" roles ("Furor over R-rated
Videos Sparks Library Legislation," 1996 p.11). The article mentions
that the MPAA opposed having its rating scheme enforced by a library in
Springfield, OR two years earlier, citing First Amendment protections.

School Library Journal reported that incident ("Library=92s Age Limit on
R-rated Videos Causes Legal Uproar," 1994). The city council of
Springfield, OR tussled with the debate whether the library should
furnish R-rated videos to anyone or should it use the MPAA ratings to
determine what videos minors may borrow. The ACLU pointed out that
using the ratings would, in their opinion, be tantamount to a government
form of censorship since libraries are public agencies. The MPAA
agreed. The city council voted to order a legal review of the issue.

And on the debate goes...

Michael Vollmar-Grone
Amos Memorial Public Library
230 East North Street
Sidney, Ohio  45365

"Your Unique Video Source"